The Baylor College of Medicine provided some answers to common flu-related questions.
Is there a flu vaccine shortage?
No, there is not a flu vaccine shortage at this time. People who have not been vaccinated yet should get their vaccine as soon as possible. Given that we are in the middle of this year's flu season, many will be trying to get vaccinated in a short period of time, therefore individual providers or pharmacies might deplete their supply of vaccine, and you might need to call ahead or call more than one provider to locate the vaccine.
Is there a shortage of Tamiflu?
No shortages have been confirmed by the manufacturer at this time. However, some specific pharmacies might have limited supplies of the liquid form for children. You might need to call more than one provider to locate the medication.
Antiviral treatment is recommended as early as possible after the onset of symptoms for some people who get the flu, especially if they have certain medical conditions that increase their risk for complications of influenza. We recommend that you call your doctor to ask if you should receive treatment. Tamiflu is not the only flu antiviral; there is also Zanamivir, and both work well for the treatment of influenza.
Should pregnant women get a “preventative” prescription for Tamiflu in case they get the flu?
No. Pregnant women need to get vaccinated if they have not already done so. If a pregnant woman becomes sick with flu-like symptoms, she should go to her doctor for an evaluation. Pregnant women can be treated with Tamiflu if recommended by a doctor.
If you get the flu, should you get a prescription for an antiviral for your family members?
People should ask their doctor if they need to give antiviral prevention treatment for their family members once there is a confirmed case in the household. The decision will be based on risk for the people in the house.
Once you get a flu shot, how long does it take before you are protected?
With the flu shot (inactivated virus vaccine), it may take 10 to 14 days to have good immunity. With the FluMist, protection is practically immediate. FluMist, a nasal spray vaccine made with the live attenuated virus, is available only for healthy people 2 to 49 year of age. Everyone else should get the flu shot.
Can you get the flu from taking a flu shot?
No. There is no live virus in the inactivated vaccine so you can't get the flu from the shot. Only a few people who get flu shots experience a low-grade fever and mild aches and pains, but they do not have the flu, which has much more severe symptoms. Others will experience nothing more than a sore arm from the shot.
Since it takes about two weeks for the shot to impart full immunity, it is possible that a recently vaccinated person could still catch the flu. The timing might make that person mistakenly think it was the shot that caused the illness, especially when there is a good chance of being exposed to the flu while the epidemic is ongoing. Also, it is possible that the person getting the shot had already been exposed to the flu or other common cold virus.
You also cannot get the flu from the FluMist. Because the vaccine contains an attenuated live virus that replicates in the nose, some people will have a runny nose and congestion for a few days after vaccination, and even a sore throat can occur. However, this virus has been altered and is incapable of causing the flu or more severe symptoms.
Who is at most risk for getting the flu?
There are three categories of people who are at most risk, including:
· People with chronic medical conditions, especially asthma
· Very young (younger than 2 years old) and the elderly (older than 65 years)
· Health care workers
People in the same household with those at high-risk should also be vaccinated.
What should you do if you catch the flu?
· Get plenty of bed rest.
· Drink lots of fluids.
· Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the aches and pains and to bring down fever. Children who catch the flu (or chicken pox) should not take aspirin because it has been associated with Reye's (pronounced RISE) syndrome. Reye's syndrome can cause vomiting, convulsions, brain damage and even death. Children can safely take medicine containing ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever.
· Call your doctor to ask if you should take antiviral medications within 48 hours of feeling flu symptoms.
Why is flu season when it is?
The seasonality of influenza virus is typical of the Northern hemisphere. The virus seems to spread better during cold weather. Children in school contribute to the spread of influenza in homes and in the community because they are more likely to catch it and spread it with so much interaction.
What is the flu strain this season?
This year the predominant influenza strain is an H3N2 influenza A virus, which is co-circulating with influenza B strain. The 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus so far is not very prominent. All these strains are included in this year's flu vaccine.
Should flu vaccines be repeated annually?
Yes. The protection lasts only one season because the type of viruses change every year and the vaccine is made to try to match those viruses. Influenza viruses continually mutate or change, making people susceptible to the flu throughout their lives. It is important to remember, the flu vaccine is not a guarantee against getting the flu. It reduces your chances of getting the flu and lessens the severity of the illness should you become sick. Preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that this year's vaccine can reduce the chance of having influenza that results in needing medical attention by at least 62 percent.
Which flu season was the most severe?
The 1918 worldwide flu epidemic infected over 500 million people, and killed 50 million. In the United States, more than 500,000 died. The 1918 flu epidemic killed more people in less time than any disease in modern history. It ranks with the Black Death of the 14th Century as one of the few events in recorded history to reduce the population of the earth by as much as one percent.
Although such a severe influenza season has not been seen since, every annual epidemic of influenza results in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths in the United States. Therefore, we urge you to get your flu vaccine to reduce your chances of becoming ill, and to start early antiviral treatment should you get the flu.